A controversial ruling from Beijing this week brought into question the legitimacy of the ‘one country, two system’ arrangement, which is currently in place in Hong Kong and resulted in a new outbreak of protests. Many Hong Kong nationals were surprised by the outcome of the elections this September, which saw a number of pro-independence politicians being elected to the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, or LegCo. Among those elected were two leaders of the Youngspiration movement, Sixtus “Baggio” Leung and Yau Wai-Chang, who have both have become central figures in the new wave of protests in Hong Kong. Both individuals attempted to make pro-independence statements during their oath-taking ceremony, by laying out a banner reading ‘Hong Kong is not China’ and by using offensive language to refer to the mainland.
As a result, both Leung and Wai-Chang have been refused the opportunity to retake their oath and were consequently disbarred from LegCo, a decision that came from Beijing rather than the Hong Kong government. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee, Beijing’s top legislative body, was responsible for the announcement that decided the outcome for the two pro-democracy members of the LegCo. Hong Kong’s chief executive, Mr. Leung Chun-Ying, also made a statement to express his intention to forbid the pair from retaking their oath – a move, which was largely viewed as a strategy to state his loyalty to Beijing ahead of the March re-election.
Among Hong Kong nationals the ruling, which made Wai-Chang and Leung ineligible to serve a position to which they were elected through Hong Kong’s democratic institutions, has been widely regarded as an opening for Beijing to further exercise their judicial and legislative power within the semi-autonomous territory. Furthermore, the move is believed to have the potential to undermine the Hong Kong government’s reputation and autonomy on an international level. This heavy-handed intervention in the LegCo is the latest attempt by the PRC to supersede Hong Kong’s legitimacy and to demonstrate the Communist Party’s authority in regions, which Beijing considers its own.
The punishment of Leung and Wai-Chang has deepened the gap between the loyalists and pro-independence residents. Supporters of a united China have argued that the behaviour of the pair represented a clear violation of basic law, therefore justifying the sudden interference by Beijing in the matter. Pro-Beijing demonstrations began on Sunday 13th November, with an estimated 40,000 people turning out to protest in front of the LegCo building. China’s President Xi Jinping also made his stance clear with his statement that China “will never allow anyone, any organization, [or] any party to split off any tract of territory from China anytime, or in any way.”
China’s repressive actions make the conflict between Hong Kong residents who desire the political and legal authority promised in the handover and those who embrace Chinese control more likely. As demonstrated during the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ of 2014, and in authoritative regimes around the world, by making legitimate, peaceful political protests illegal, the risk of violent protest increases.